Sunday, June 15, 2003

Living History

While it is very unlikely that I would buy Hillary Clinton's book (at least until I find it at a garage sale) I still have sought out a review of the thing, written by someone who is not struck with the sycophancy for the Clintons that consumes most of the usual suspects who write for the New york times Review of books. I have found a real gem of a review, written by Matt Labash, published in The Weekly Standard. Now, as a subscriber to The Weekly Standard, I get unrestricted access to their web site. I am not sure if just anyone can get access to the online version of this review, so, within the bounds of fair use, I shall excerpt some of the better fragments of this magnificent analysis of Hillary's latest book. It can be found here. (Hopefully a free registration will get you a copy; this piece is great reading. Buy the magazine if you have to, it's worth it.)

This book appears, as expected, to be an almost totally dishonest whitewash of the presidential years as seen through Hillary's eyes, and Labash takes great pains to point out, and prove, the depth of the mandacity present here, point by point. Hillary claims that the Lewinsky affair was the first time BJ had lied to her, which requires that she deny the truth of the Gennifer Flowers affair. Yet she must know that BJ admitted to this affair (under oath) months before the Lewinsky deal. And on and on. Yet Labash tells it in a most entertaining way. He begins:
In keeping with the children's theme, "Living History"--or as the gals in my Hillary reading circle call it, "Living Herstory"--is Hillary's first scratch'n'sniff book. Let me explain. Take a claim in this book, almost any claim, scratch it hard enough and it smells like BS.
But beyond the mere lies, there's Hillary the incorrigibly arrogant bitch-princess, as in:
And then there's the least attractive Hillary, Hillary the Martyr, who in her eagerness to reach for grandiosity after her life had been turned into a sex farce, draws strength from the examples set by Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel. Wiesel survived a Nazi death camp and Mandela survived 27 years of imprisonment for opposing an unjust, racist government. Hillary survived having her husband turned into a Jay Leno monologue because he received blowjobs from an intern and lied about it. It's all the same in Hillaryland--as her staffers called their workspace.
But beyond anything else, this review is entertaining... no doubt much more entertaining than its subject. An example:
To label "Living History" as being merely boring would be to owe a groveling apology to Bill Bradley. By the third time I read Hillary assert that she doesn't take herself too seriously, I knew that I was seriously in for it. By the tenth time I tripped over a paragraph that read like it had been wrenched from a bad alumni magazine ("What I valued most about Wellesley were the lifelong friends I made and the opportunity that a women's college offers us to stretch our wings and minds in the ongoing journey toward self-definition and identity"), I was praying to be struck with blindness. By the fiftieth description of a meaningless foreign trip that she took, such as the one to Dhaka, Bangladesh, a place she "long wanted to visit" because of attractions like the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research--I was begging for death. Just as you would be too, the seventieth time you read her introduce a person as if they were a State of the Union prop, a person like "Ryan Moore, a seven-year-old from South Sioux City, Nebraska, who had been born with a rare form of dwarfism," and whose story "kept our eyes on the prize throughout our struggle to bring health care coverage to all Americans."

Who talks like this, you ask? Hillary, that's who.
But, quintessential Labash, we get to the point, as in:
The conservative caricature of Hillary Clinton has always hinged on painting her as a bloodless, calculating shrew who pulled Bill's strings and regularly packed the dirty laundry off to the dry cleaners. But there is a much more prosaic explanation for why so many detractors find her even less appealing than her husband. He, for all his faults and nods to political expedience, exhibited an anti-political impulse: a scampish charm and an insatiable, often reckless appetite to live life for it's own pleasures, consequences be damned. While Bill's detractors would call this his hedonistic side and his boosters would call it his human one, Hillary, as revealed by her own ghostwriters' words, is pretty much a one-sided affair. "Living History" paints her as a purely political creature.

Everything she does--no matter how pedestrian--seems to contain some golden moral or noble expression, which almost always rings false. Since it's not officially a campaign book, and contains next to no policy prescriptions, one could reasonably expect her to throw open the window and let out some of the hot air. The memoir gives the impression that you are never being allowed a glimpse into her true world. Or more troubling perhaps, that you are--that Hillary's artificial world is also her real one.

Consequently, you never get the sense that she is trying to seriously arrive at the truth, but rather, that she's merely shining up her resume. She is a joiner, and an apple-polisher, the teacher's pet and the queen of the spelling bee--every twit you knew in school that was begging to be taken behind the gym for a game of full-contact dodge ball. Thus, we learn that she was president of her high school fan club for Fabian, and served as well on the Cultural Values Committee. After running successfully for student council and junior class vice-president, she tried to join NASA's astronaut training program. At the time NASA wasn't accepting girls--and even though Hillary was still in high school and wore coke-bottle glasses, this "blanket rejection" made her "more sympathetic later to anyone confronted with discrimination of any kind."
Without quoting the entire thing, you will need to find your own copy. Don't miss this one!